News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

There Are Zero Black Republicans in Congress, Yet 32 Are Running for Office in 2010?

Michael Steele's admission that the Republicans have explicitly pursued a race-based 'southern strategy' runs counter to the strikingly high number of black GOP candidates.

File it under one of those "Duh" statements.

In remarks at DePaul University this week, Michael Steele, the Republican leader, declared that his party hadn't "done a very good job" courting black votes. Republicans, their leader charged, had "mistreated" their relationship to blacks over four decades with a "'southern strategy' that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote."

"Why the hell is Steele, chairman of the RNC (!!), talking about a southern strategy from decades past when today's GOP can win 50 seats in the House," one angry GOP operative demanded by email.

Steele's remarks, and this fresh round of controversy entangling the party, shadow a less reported development. Thirty-two black Republicans, a record-high number, are now running for the U.S. House of Representatives. The South and West, the nation's most diverse regions, field the majority of these candidates: 13 (40 percent) are running in the South and six (19 percent) in the West.

Politically speaking, the group is running in a hodgepodge of districts: Twenty (63 percent) are running in districts that lean slightly or strongly Democratic, while 11 (34 percent) are running in districts that lean slightly or strongly Republican. What's more, the 32 black candidates are running in districts that vary in racial composition: 17 are in majority-white districts, while 15 are majority-minority districts.

"People who've lost factory jobs or lost their home, people who approach me after Tea Party events, have asked me to run," says Angela McGlowan, a small-business owner and former Fox TV political analyst, running to unseat a Blue Dog Democrat in Mississippi's first district. "They say, 'Angela, you've made it big. Please go back to Washington and help us.' When people who have despair ask you for help, you don't turn them down."

There is no specific or organized effort to recruit black candidates to run for Congress, says Paul Lindsay, spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the official party organization working to elect Republicans.

"Our recruitment process in general is colorblind," says Lindsay. "You know, that being said, we have been fortunate to have a successful year that includes a number of African-American candidates running."

"Many black Americans are tired of the political system taking them for granted," says Timothy Johnson, chairperson of the Frederick Douglass Foundation, a black-run organization that promotes the political involvement and election of blacks nationwide. "These candidates represent a small group of individuals who have stepped out on faith and decided to stop yelling at the TV and get involved."

This historic showing of black candidates promises more hope than probability. Of the 32 candidates, only six stand even a reasonable chance of winning their respective party primary and general election, according to careful calculations, aggregating the analysis of Congressional Quarterly, the Cook Political Report and this author.

These six viable black candidates include David Castillo (WA-3), Bill Hardiman (MI-3), Lou Huddleston (NC-8), Les Phillip (AL-5), Alan West (FL-22) and McGlowan.

Of the GOP's top six black prospects, five are military veterans; five are self-described conservative Christians; four have advanced degrees; and one is a light-skinned Caribbean immigrant, a la Colin Powell.

Only one of the 32 black candidates is receiving active financial and political support from the national party: Allen West, who faces stiff opposition from well-funded Democratic incumbent Ron Klein. (That contested Florida congressional district swoops up from Broward to the northern tip of Palm Beach County, comprising the epicenter of the heated 2000 presidential recount.) West is the only black candidate in the NRCC's "Young Guns" program, an "elite" group of the party's top-priority candidates. The "merit-based" program provides funds and strategic political support to Republicans challenging Democratic incumbents or running for open seats. Young Guns must meet fundraising, volunteer-recruitment, Internet outreach and other campaign benchmarks to earn their status.

West declined to be interviewed through his spokesperson, Valentina Weis, also a founder of the South Florida Tea Party.

Given the anti-establishment, anti-Washington fervor haunting this election cycle, many Republican candidates publicly keep the national party at arm's length, anyway. (Right Senator Hutchinson?) But, no matter. Discrete political and financial support from the NRCC and the Republican establishment is craved by most GOP congressional hopefuls, including the competitive black ones. McGlowan, the Mississippi candidate, initiated a meeting with the NRCC, seeking party support -- to no avail. "Mississippi's good ol' boys rallied around an establishment candidate," she says, at Trent Lott's encouragement: Alan Nunnelee.

Like their white counterparts, the black GOP candidates are seeking national party support mixed with Tea Party street cred. This tightrope walk offers its own challenges -- and comedy. When a black reporter recently ventured into a big Tea Party rally, a "greeter" confused the reporter for a stadium worker, stopping him stone-cold at the gate: "Are you working tonight?"

Why blame the Tea Party greeter? His impromptu experiment in racial profiling has grounding in fact: A recent CBS/New York Times poll reveals that only 1 percent of Tea Party supporters are black. It's a chicken-egg conundrum, pinpointing an exact sequence of events: the GOP's "southern strategy," its extremely vanilla demographics, and its chronic racial kerfuffles. A bungled Hurricane Katrina response inspired Barbara Bush, inspecting the disaster survivors, to chime: "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."